Ukrainian prosecutors discover sex-smuggling gang hunting fleeing women | sex trafficking

Investigators in Ukraine said they thwarted a criminal gang that forced women into sex work abroad after luring them with false advertisements for legitimate work.

Authorities in Kiev arrested the suspected leader of the gang after months of surveillance led to the detention of a woman as she was about to cross the border. They were then able to confirm the suspect’s involvement.

The 21-year-old, who has to support a son, had lost her job in the war and was about to enter Hungary, travel to Vienna and from there board a flight to Istanbul, where she believed a legitimate job offer was waiting for her.

After assisting her, prosecutors were able to arrest a 31-year-old man suspected of being the leader of a human trafficking ring. Based in the Kiev region, the gang is said to have recruited a number of vulnerable Ukrainian women with the false prospect of legal employment after the Russian invasion, sent them to Turkey and forced them into sex work.

In the suspect’s home, prosecutors found thousands of dollars in cash, credit cards, some registered in China, and a diary, seen by the Guardian, in which the suspect kept a record of the women and their activities in Turkey.

“Many women in Ukraine have had financial problems since the war started,” said Oleh Tkalenko, a senior prosecutor for Kiev. region that led the study. “Many of them lost their jobs. It was very difficult, especially for single mothers. In one of the cities of the Kiev region, a group of men organized a series of Telegram channels, called “Meetings”, “Meet your future husband” or “Escort service”, where they recruited these women. They took advantage of their vulnerable situation and offered them jobs in Turkey.”

Senior Prosecutor by Tkalenko
Senior prosecutor Oleh Tkalenko, who led the human trafficking investigation. Photo: Alessio Mamo/The Guardian

Prosecutors said women were offered work to escort rich men to prestigious events. “When the women got there, they were involved in prostitution,” Tkalenko said. “They have been ripped off.”

In early June, investigators began tracking the movements and contacts of a man living near the capital who appeared to be the leader. After a few weeks, authorities managed to track down one of his victims, a Donetsk woman who had lived in Kiev and was on her way to the border village of Chop, to Hungary and then to Austria, where she would board the flight. for Istanbul.

“With the detectives, we decided to intervene,” Tkalenko said. “We stopped the woman at the border. Her fragile condition was obvious: lack of money, a child to support, general financial difficulties from the war. The leader we were watching had bought her tickets, given her some money and organized her route. At that point we arrested the man and searched his so-called ‘office’, where we found irrefutable evidence.”

The man is said to have kept the women in Turkey in a notebook. Under their real names or nicknames, he had listed their working days, and a price list for each service.

A diary in which the alleged leader of a sex gang kept a record of the women's activities.
The notebook records details of the trafficked women’s activities. Photo: Alessio Mamo

At the moment, prosecutors do not know how many women were forced into sex work and sent to Turkey and allegedly other countries in the EU. At least 10 women’s names were in the leader’s notebook.

“Men and women in Ukraine may be vulnerable to labor and sexual exploitation during this period,” said Varvara Zhluktenko, UN communications officer. International Organization for Migration in Ukraine. “We have a hotline that has been active for years to provide assistance to victims of human trafficking. Since the start of the war, we have cases of Ukrainian women seeking accommodation abroad in EU member states and communicating with potential hosts via the Internet while still in Ukraine.

“We had a case of a flat owner living in Europe who told a woman she could stay with him in exchange for sex. There are also men posing as travel agents and inducing Ukrainian women to go with them to leave the country, and they insist that this is their last chance to leave Ukraine, which is very suspicious.”

Tkalenko said: “Based on the evidence gathered, we suspect that more women are currently being exploited in Turkey. There is data in the man’s notebook. We are now getting ready to collaborate with our Turkish colleagues.”

Prosecutors said the woman who stopped at the border is cooperating with authorities and willing to testify against the gang leader and his associates.

Since the Russian invasion, human rights groups say women and children fleeing Ukraine to Poland have been targeted by suspected sex traffickers, who operate alone and in gangs.

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